The performative surprise: parody, documentary and critique
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Kenny, K. (2009) 'The performative surprise: parody, documentary and critique'. Culture and Organization, 15 (2).
Can parody help us to "re-imagine" the organizations and institutions we live with (Du Gay 2007, 13)? Or, like many forms of critique, does parody risk being incorporated: becoming part of the power it aims to make fun of? In this paper, drawing on Judith Butler's work, I argue that certain circumstances enable parody to destabilize hegemonic, taken-for-granted institutions (Butler 1990). I explore these ideas through a reading of the Yes Men documentary (Tartan Video, 2005). This film features a series of humorous representations of the World Trade Organization (WTO). I show how these act to denaturalize and effectively critique this dominant force in global trade. This paper discusses the value of parody for helping us to re-think and re-make particular institutions and organizations. In doing so, I point to the importance of creating a spectacle in which parody can travel beyond its immediate location, so that it can reach ever newer audiences with its 'performative surprise' (Butler 1990, xxvi). I suggest that the rise of the Internet, and inexpensive documentary techniques, offer interesting new ways for achieving this.